Messing With the Verb

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I recently wrote about how catholicity begins at home, which you can read here if you missed it. Jim Jordan was kind enough to comment in the thread below that, but because the conveyor belt of time won’t slow down, his comments were kind of buried. I wanted to bump them up to the top again, and then quickly respond to just a few things. I appreciate Jim’s interaction on this.

“Well, I for one welcome your interaction with the Driscolls and Pipers of our age. As for ‘evangelical,’ you define it as absolute necessity of a new birth ‘down in your heart.’ I’m happy to sign on to that as well. That is, those who persevere in the faith (good soil believers) participate in the new birth of humanity in the resurrection of Jesus, which means they are individually born again also and do not commit suicide along the way. The ‘down’ heart stuff, being a metaphor, is fine with me also, though from an exegetical standpoint, I’ve never gotten clear precisely how what the Bible means by ‘heart’ fits with what most Christians think it means today. I’m happiest knowing that the Heart of my life is not inside of me, but is Jesus, who will never let me down.”

So let me note three quick things in response.

The first thing has to do with how we should categorize it if we cannot come to agreement about these issues. Let’s hope we agree, but what if we don’t? One of the disservices that came out of the early FV controversy is that Morton Smith defined heresy as anything out of accord with the Westminster Confession. This, in my view, confused the difference between the early creeds of the Church — which distinguished Christian from non-Christian — and the confessions of the Reformation era — which distinguished Reformed from Lutheran, and so on. There is no such thing as an “in-house” heretic. Heretics ought to be rejected by every Christian communion, and not just by one or two of them. So I do think that these are quite possibly confessional issues, but I don’t believe these confessional issues touch on basic Christian orthodoxy. I am unconfessional at certain points also — I subscribe to the Westminster Confession, but my views on the sabbath are only partially Westminsterian, for example — which is fine if the exceptions are duly submitted to the appropriate ecclesiastical body, and authorized by them. That is what I would envision as a good end point of this discussion — a church officer who differs with what I have been calling “effectual call regeneration” should take — again, in my view — an exception to the Confession, and then we would all know where we are. Nothing could be simpler, and universal harmony and peace would break out all over.

Second, to the theological point. Jim says, “That is, those who persevere in the faith (good soil believers) participate in the new birth of humanity in the resurrection of Jesus, which means they are individually born again also and do not commit suicide along the way.” I could sign off on this if we mess with the verb a little. How’s this?

“That is, those who persevere in the faith (good soil believers) show they have participated in the new birth of humanity in the resurrection of Jesus, which means they are individually born again also and do not commit suicide along the way.”

The reason for stating it this way is that a theological dilemma is created if we postulate that every baptized Christian is given all of Christ, in the same ways and in the same respect, and that some of them “commit suicide.” If this is the case, and if some covenant members can in fact commit that spiritual suicide, then this has to mean that Christ is not our perseverance, and that it has to come to us (if it comes to us) in some other fashion. If it comes from within ourselves, then this pushes us in an Arminian direction. If it comes from God, then God is doing something salvific for the elect apart from Christ, which would create a separate cluster of problems. The only way I can see that extricates us from this dilemma is to opt for the classic Reformation understanding of the new birth — that there must be a qualitative distinction in those who are saved, a distinction separating them from unsaved covenant members. They are not all Israel that are of Israel (Rom. 9:6).

The reason this is necessary can be seen in the third point. I appreciated Jim’s emphasis on the ground of our salvation being extra nos, outside of ourselves. But this just illustrates how this problem won’t go away, wherever we locate it. This is not really about what a spiritual biopsy of the new heart would look like under a celestial microscope. The answer to that question is “I don’t know.”

The Jesus who saves brings us to the Father, and is the basis for making God our Father. The new life I am talking about consists of a Father transplant. Now the Father is outside us; this is an objective relationship. But there is a fundamental distinction in the nature of that relationship to the Father between different kinds of covenant members. Certain covenant members have God for their father in one sense (John 8:37), and the devil for their father in another (John 8:44). Other covenant members have only God for their Father (John 8:42). If God is your Father, in this sense, then you love Jesus, pure and simple, and the devil is not your father in any sense.

I appreciate Jim taking the time to interact on this point. If he wants to respond to anything I have written here, I would be happy to link to it. In my view, discussion of these issues in this manner would be most profitable.

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Brad Jones
Brad Jones
8 years ago

Pastor Wilson, I appreciate you graciously and tactfully responding to the criticisms of the FV and for clarifying what you mean by what you say. I praise God for that. 

I don’t know how I feel about some of the things the FV folks believe, but I do pray and long for full reconciliation to happen between the FV folks and the confessionalist Reformed folks who have taken issue with the FV.

Thank you for the way you are handling this. My prayers are with you.

Kyle Bryant
Kyle Bryant
8 years ago

It seems to me that when someone offers a thoughtful and humble rejoinder to your thoughts, the clarifications are often quite helpful. Let’s have more of that.

Jon
Jon
8 years ago

I think it is much easier to dispense with the Reformed paradigm; I choose neither the Westminster nor the FV approach.  For me, Arminianism answers it perfectly. 

oldfatslow
8 years ago

So, three of the seeds spring up from faith and only
one perseveres.  And, the faith itself is not the issue; it’s
soil and fruit.  JBJ wants to wait until the historical
manifestation of fruitfulness to declare who the good
seed is and DW wants to start with the soils.  It’s a
timing thing.
 
As one reads the above, he should read it with a
slight cast of question in the tone.  I don’t mean
to speak declaratively on this.
 
ofs

Nicholas Barnes
Nicholas Barnes
8 years ago

I look forward to seeing how this plays out.   This was the issue of my pastor Steve before presbytery (back when AAPC was PCA). I submitted a paper on this exact issue pertaining to Pastor Wilikins to Dr. Scott Swain @ RTS and how this issue caused both Pipa, Jeong, and Waters to think that Steve was saying those effectually called (regenerate) – (elect) could lose their salvation (which Steve was not saying).  Here is what Pastor Steve clarified before presbytery (which I believe he still holds to as far as I know): . I believe that the non-elect do receive… Read more »

Seth B.
Seth B.
8 years ago

Mr. Wilson: Having read the Bible and a number of early church fathers, the best definition of heresy I can figure is any denial of: 1. the doctrine of the Trinity (perichoresis) 2. doctrine of Jesus’ dual nature (hypostatis) or 3. salvation by grace (Gal. 1).
 
For awhile I thought heresy could be defined as any denial of the Apostle’s Creed, but some perfectly orthodox Christians, such as Calvin, deny that Jesus descended into Hades. So the scheme above is the best I can come up with. Care to shed some light of exactly defines a heresy?

Seth B.
Seth B.
8 years ago

And can you recommend any books that would help me work through these issues?

Tim H
Tim H
8 years ago

It’s pretty clear to me, but let me be the first one to predict it publicly: Douglas is setting the stage to recant on FV. 
The only question is whether you are putting out feelers to give others a chance to join you in the lifeboat, or if you are going to cut and run solo.

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

Things are “pretty clear” to Tim H, but what is not clear to me is which Tim relishes more:  to punish Doug for sticking with the FV joint statement, or to humiliate Doug for “cutting and running”.  It seems Doug is damned either way.  This attitude may tell us more about Tim than about Doug.

Dan Glover
8 years ago

Tim H, when Doug doesn’t “recant”, will you be the first to publically admit that you don’t know what you are talking about?

Agata
Agata
8 years ago

I was intrigued by the last couple of paragraphs of this post.  If there is a qualitative distinction, why do I see that the personal ethics of many of those I know that lean towards the FV side of the Reformed spectrum end up looking much like the personal ethics of those I know who are on the PCUSA/RCA/progressive CRC end of the spectrum?  I’m in neither camp, though I am confessionally Reformed (in the continental, Three Forms of Unity way), and am finding my closest allies to be conservative baptistic evangelicals who stress a new birth evidenced by a… Read more »

Brian
Brian
8 years ago

Doug, Is it true (as Tim H. seems to suspect) that you are changing from your former position, or are you merely clarifying your former position? Also, I don’t really see how you necessarily disagree with James Jordan’s position. A born-again heart of good soil that yields by God’s grace a persevering faith is also given by God in His grace. Such persevering faith and such a good-heart are both originated by God’s grace against any merit of the individual. In other words, I am doubting that your position is any different from Jordan’s in that I don’t believe you would… Read more »

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

Doug Wilson wrote: If Jim believes that the persevering faith and the non-persevering faith are qualitatively different from the get-go, then I think we have agreement. If he says that they are indistinguishable (to God) prior to the point of apostasy, then we have a disagreement. The difference between persevering and non-persevering faith is a qualitative difference that has already been stipulated, “from the get-go”, by those two adjectives.  One is persevering and one isn’t.  The nature of the adjective presupposes no flip-flopping along the way.  Persevering faith doesn’t become non-persevering faith, otherwise the adjective is meaningless.  Doug also wrote:… Read more »

Tim H
Tim H
8 years ago

Chill, Dan Glover — it was a prediction, not a claim to knowledge.

Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
8 years ago

Cain was as federally covenented as Abel and Esau and Muhammad.  And as is your neighbor. 

Todd Robinson
Todd Robinson
8 years ago

 If it comes from God, then God is doing something salvific for the elect apart from Christ, which would create a separate cluster of problems

Pr. Wilson, could you clarify/expand on this statement? Thanks.

James B. Jordan
James B. Jordan
8 years ago

The FV Joint Statement was not a set of hard and fast theological positions but a zone of open conversation. There’s lots of room for varying emphases. I do believe that the difference between Christians who persevere and those who don’t lies in the decree of God. (Well, everyone believes that.) But the mystery of apostasy is just that: a mystery. It’s the same mystery as how Adam, created good, could rebel against God. I think that a trillion years from now we still won’t understand this. After all, both God and His image partake of incomprehensibility, and hence the… Read more »

Jeremy Sexton
Jeremy Sexton
8 years ago

Doug, Thanks for your irenic tone. You wrote, The reason for stating it this way is that a theological dilemma is created if we postulate that every baptized Christian is given all of Christ, in the same ways and in the same respect, and that some of them “commit suicide.” My understanding is that you are looking at this synchronically. You’re saying that if someone at any point in time had “all of Christ,” then he could not commit spiritual suicide unless Arminianism is true or unless perseverance is given to the decretally elect apart from Christ. But the gift… Read more »

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

James B. Jordan wrote: I do believe that the difference between Christians who persevere and those who don’t lies in the decree of God. (Well, everyone believes that.) But the mystery of apostasy is just that: a mystery. I agree that there is a proper mystery here.  Hopefully we are all comfortable affirming that God’s decree is the external (remote) qualitative difference that organizes any other differences.  My concern would be that, even if there are qualitative differences located within the individual faith, or individual personality, we may be tempted to dig at those differences with our own tools.  We… Read more »

Jeremy Sexton
Jeremy Sexton
8 years ago

P.S. In other words, the qualitative difference — the distinguishing feature that you’re looking for — can be found not in the elect but in God’s decree. I submit that it does not get any more qualitative than that. On the ground, the qualitative difference can be found in the way God’s preservation plays out over time, enacting his decree. Some are preserved by Christ in all of Christ for a while; the decretally elect, to the end. (The point of 1 Cor 1:8, to clarify my earlier comment about how it’s not decretal statement, is that when those in… Read more »

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

Jeremy Sexton’s comments are interesting.  I’d offer another related thought…  In a particular sense, I’m not sure that we should look for “all of Christ” to be found residing within the covenant member, discretely.  Though Christ does promise to make His abode with us, we aren’t big enough to contain “all of Christ” in any free-standing sense.  Neither do we contain salvation in any free-standing “I got saved” sense, as if it was a card in our wallet.  Rather I would say that the covenant member is united to, and buried over their head in, “all of Christ”, and possesses… Read more »

Nick
Nick
8 years ago

@Katecho, Jeremy, et al I don’t submit to the FV, but I do have a question for those who do here.  By saying that there is no qualitative difference between the elect and the non-elect that apostatize in themselves, that the difference is only in the decrees of God, aren’t you saying that it is possible for a born again believer to apostatize?  After all, while being born again is an act of God (not our own, not of our merit), it does indicate a difference in the one being born again — doesn’t it?  You can’t just define those… Read more »

Nick
Nick
8 years ago

Sorry for no paragraphs above… they were there when I typed the comment…

James B. Jordan
James B. Jordan
8 years ago

Nick, both Wilson and Jordan are FV. This is an in-house conversation about a mysterious matter. Let me try to say something about your question. You use the phrase “difference in themselves.” Well that statement is thinking of a human being as something that has an inside in a kind of spatial sense. But that needs to be thought about. Before we can really talk about these things, we have to follow the FV dictum of letting the Bible tell us what it means, and not bringing in our cultural notions. What is the stone heart and the flesh heart… Read more »

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

I want to clarify that those with Federal Vision goggles are able to speak of the “born again” covenant member who walks away from Christ (their life) without threatening God’s sovereignty over such a process.  The number ordained to eternal life doesn’t change no matter how much grafting and pruning goes on during the history of the covenant Vine.  The final result will be exactly as God decreed, by name.                                                                                                                                                   Some may insist that God should defend that eternal number at the perimeter gate, in every moment of history, by not allowing the non-perseverers into the covenant community in… Read more »

Gianni
Gianni
8 years ago

But the question Wilson is asking is, is every baptized Christian given all of Christ, in the same ways and in the same respect, and then some of them fall away? I say this as a Reformed Baptist.
                                                                                                                                                 Are some of you affirming that the Lutherans are essentially saying the same thing as the FV regarding these things, only perhaps in a less roundabout way?
 

katecho
katecho
8 years ago

Gianni wrote: But the question Wilson is asking is, is every baptized Christian given all of Christ, in the same ways and in the same respect, and then some of them fall away? Speaking only for myself, I would first clarify my view that water baptism is God’s ritual which bears public witness of an existing covenant relationship and identity.  In other words, water baptism doesn’t create a covenant relationship, but it recognizes it publicly and objectively, even if it only existed a few seconds before the water was applied.  So, for example, the baptism of an infant of a… Read more »

Brian
Brian
8 years ago

Nick & Katecho, I don’t think we have good reason to believe the Bible teaches that some of those who are born again do not persevere in faith unto salvation. Unlike the rocky and thorny hearts that result in temporary faith commitments (Lk 8:11-14), the person that God has graced with a good heart (Lk 8:15), produces persevering fruit of righteousness as a result of the persevering faith in his born again good heart (Ro 10:4). After John teaches that the born again have a need to repentantly confess sin (1 Jn 1:8-9), he says there is a sense where the born again do… Read more »

Nick
Nick
8 years ago

@Brian Brown – I agree with you.  I am definitely not FV.  I am a Reformed Baptist, and FV has little appeal to most Baptists.  Furthermore, I think this is a major issue with those of us who are not FV, and a major part of the controversy.  Let me see if I can get paragraphs now using HTML. <p></p> @James Jordan — See Brian’s comment.  For the record, I do notshare your presupposition that Christ came to simply turn back the clock to Adam’s state.  The new creature is not like Adam in the same way the new Earth… Read more »

Nick
Nick
8 years ago

HTML tags don’t work… I give up trying to format comments in here…

Nick
Nick
8 years ago

I see Pastor Wilson just posted a follow up further explaining his views.  Thanks Pastor Wilson.

Tony Cowley
8 years ago

Brian, Good comments.  Very helpful to me.  Yours is a useful collocation of Scriptures supporting the historical understanding.  At least, reinforcing in my mind why Regeneration, Election and Assurance are not to be divorced. The anti-FV accusation that “FV destroys assurance” kept coming to mind as I read this thread.  This disconnect between the decree and history took my breath away back in 2001 when listening to some of the Auburn tapes.  This was a different flavor than most of what I’d experienced as a Reformed believer, or as as a Conservative Baptist (once saved always saved).  (I say “Mostly” because I’ve… Read more »

Tony Cowley
8 years ago

Lost
 
 
all
 
 
paragraphs
 
some
how

Brian
Brian
8 years ago

  Tony, I’m glad you found that helpful. I have also benefited from a Scripture-“collocation” approach that I first noticed in Demar, Kenneth Gentry, and Bahnsen. I’m not sure all flavors of FV necessarily destroy assurance; Doug seems to advocate for assurance, and there is nothing that I have noticed in his writings that seems inconsistent with the Joint FV Statement that he signed. Since you mentioned Wright, I look forward to reading N.T.’s “Paul and the Faithfulness of God” sometime soon. I think I saw an interview about it where he said in regard to ‘justification’ (also discussed in this book) that conceptualizing justification as an individual aspect… Read more »

Tony Cowley
8 years ago

Brian – Thanks again.    I don’t think most, if any, FV proponents mean to deny assurance of salvation.  In fact, they throw the accusation back in the face of their opponents, in a slightly different way.  We needn’t rehash that here.   What happens with Election and Assurance (and in Jim’s case, it seems, Regeneration itself) is that the terms are subject to a biblical repristinization, and then held up for comparison with the history of doctrine.  FVers do not do this in a primitivistic manner, nor unaware of the history of doctrine and the development and usage of the… Read more »

Tony Cowley
8 years ago

One of my e.g.s should be i.e.  Guess which.

Dan Glover
8 years ago

I just wanted to chime in on assurance.  Christians don’t receive assurance from disecting the doctrines of predestination, foreknowledge, regeneration, perseverance, etc.  Rather, assurance comes from a heart that trusts in the covenant promises of God, looks to what Christ has done in his life, death, resurrection and ongoing mediation and reign, and takes up one’s own cross daily to follow Jesus in loving obedience.  When sin comes, assurance isn’t necessarily shaken if we obey God’s commands to confess, repent, receive forgiveness, and believe God’s promise of forgiveness.  Of course the doctrines must and should be studied, but assurance won’t be found there by itself.  We can understand… Read more »

Dan Glover
8 years ago

Tim H, no worries, I’m chill.  I’m a bit jumpy after the strange fire talk going back and forth right now.  I just didn’t want to see people coming after you with stones later, that’s all.

Nick
Nick
8 years ago

Dan – I really didn’t want to comment any more here on this subject, but I feel I should respond to what you wrote.  Not to be contrarian (after all, I am not FV so I will disagree with a lot of what has been said in here), but experience and doctrine cannot be separated the way you seem to imply.  You said “Christians don’t receive assurance from disecting the doctrines of predestination, [etc]… assurance comes from a heart that trusts in the covenant promises of God, [etc.]”.  Well, the list in your second group is, guess what, doctrinal.  You can’t… Read more »

Dan Glover
8 years ago

Nick, Good comments.  I don’t disagree with you that doctrinal study is important for all aspects of the Christian life including assurance.  I don’t believe my comments played experience off against doctrine (perhaps in the opening statement you quoted of mine, but taken together, I believe I qualified it).  I just wanted to point out that, in many of the debates about FV and other intramural theological debates over election, predestination, assurance, etc., those in the debate tend to focus on the first half of each of Paul’s epistles (the largely doctrinal teaching) and often don’t include the aspect of Christian… Read more »

Nick
Nick
8 years ago

Dan – Thanks for your gracious response.  OK, this is really my last comment. :-) I do agree that assurance from doctrine without obedience is false assurance.  On that we fully agree.  However, unlike what you seem to be saying, I see experience more as a way to find out if a person (or one self) is a false believer, and not as a way to gain any substantive comfort or assurance.  When the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians to examine themselves, it sounds to me more like a warning than a comfort.  Warnings are not meant to provide assurance,… Read more »